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EP#11 Navigating Business and Relationships in the LGBTQ Salon Industry with Cal

In this episode of You Did That!, I welcome Cal,  the Co-Founder of a trauma-informed, LGBTQ+ forward hair salon and community space. Cal works to learn the opportunities, resources, and needs in his community, build connections, and support healthy interdependence.  He looks forward to finding more opportunities to embolden the LGBTQ+ community in Long Beach and beyond.

 Main Topics

  • Salon Benders and LGBTQ-forward hair salon 
  • Recognizing the importance of getting administration and people
  • Learning the power of observation and navigating conflict
  • Importance of external supports and equitable practices in business
  • The transition to feeling reflected within the community.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your business?

I’m one of the co-founders of Salon Benders and we’ve been operating for about five years now. And it’s been a wild journey. Obviously three of those years have been experiencing pandemic, but I love the work that I get to do. I love the people that I work with and it’s really wonderful. 

So before I was working in nontraditional education and running summer camps and after school programs, and I just loved engaging with young people and helping them learn when they were playing and they didn’t know they were learning. And I was generally kind of the token trans person, adult wise at least, and worked to make sure all of my campsites had gender neutral restrooms and trans policies and the educators were informed and I kind of burnt out on that. And then Jesse was at the same time kind of burning out on doing hair for people that she didn’t connect with. So we were both kind of like, we need to put more love into our work and take a chance, and so we just started shuffling all the things around and tried to figure out how we could make it happen, and the rest is a wild history.

I have to say, I actually was super lucky and privileged in many ways that I was in San Francisco and I was working for an organization that gave me a lot of support, and that is such a big thing in my work now. 

What would you say was the moment that it became official for you?

There were two moments. There was one that was really fearful and one that was like, oh, my God, we’re doing it.

So the first one was on trans day of visibility when we announced on our social media that we were going to make this move. As a trans person, I’ve always been questioned like, are you sure you’re going to do this? And I’ve backed out of a lot of things, but as soon as I blasted it out there, I was like, I’m sure, and I am doing this.

The next moment was when we had a community event. It was a pop up with a bunch of queer vendors and music and beautiful faces and so much joy and so much different talent. And that was like, seriously, my dream came true.

Can you elaborate on any unconventional aspects of your business model, approach, or hiring practices?

I think that’s a really important part of who we are and what we do is trying to bake in from the foundation up, ethical and equitable practices. And equitable practices don’t mean the same for everyone, the same expectations for everyone. It means we have an openness within our hiring practice, within our procedures and policies. 

We’re keeping open communication and not just meeting the legal barrier of not discriminating, but really doing what we can to not only bring in really strong folks but also really encourage them to contribute. To help us build this. And so much of that is because we are a beauty salon. We do great hair, and it’s the intention. It’s a space that feels good. It is a caring community where you can bring things up that feel uncomfortable. 

 What is your favorite thing that you’ve learned about yourself in this process?

I think that my favorite thing that I’ve learned is the power of observation. I think that as a younger person, I felt like I was never the person to be loud or in your face or I was subversive, always. And I would protest and whatever, but conflict averse all over the place.  And I think I felt weak because of that, because I was afraid of conflict. And I have less fear around conflict, it’s like recognizing that sitting back and watching and seeing what is needed is actually a valuable skill, and that’s a role that is valuable, but I don’t need to take up. And it’s actually been really beautiful because that’s a role that Jesse takes up very comfortably. She’s not afraid of conflict. She will tell you who you are, and that’s fine by her. 

What advice would you give to someone interested in starting their own venture, based on your own experience?

The first thing that came to mind was, get support.

I think there’s so many checklists of things that need to be done that it’s easy to forget. You also need emotional support and financial support. And there’s going to be some bad days, and you need some cushion, you need some safety bumpers. And we made it through, but we could have done better if we had more support, because sometimes it felt like us against the world, and that is not a way to build community.

What would your younger self think if they saw you now.

My work is cool. My house is cool. My plants are cool. My animals are cool. My girlfriend is cool. I have a cool life. I go and jump into the lagoon when the sun is setting. I never would have imagined a life like this when I was a kid, ever. So even though it’s a hard ass life, my little kid self would be like, Dang.

Learn more about Cal:

Follow: ⁠IG⁠/⁠Facebook

Visit Salon Bender’s website:⁠